The Aceh Project

In 2014, the most comprehensive codification of Islamic Criminal Laws took place in Aceh, Indonesia. See how the new laws reshape and redefine criminal law in the region.

Introduction

The promulgation of Aceh Qanun Number 6 of 2014 on Jinayat Law, commonly known as Aceh Qanun Jinayat, marks a significant development in Islam’s long history in the region. After decades of contention between the Acehnese local political power and the Indonesian central government, this is the first time that Islamic criminal law has been formally codified complete with accompanying procedural law (Aceh Qanun Number 7 of 2013). The repercussions of this law are manifold. The law introduces numerous new Islam-inspired criminal offences and forms of punishments previously unrecognized under Indonesia’s national criminal justice system such as public lashing. It transforms the religious courts (Pengadilan Agama) in the region which were previously mandated only to handle personal matters of Muslims in cases such as divorce and inheritance, into courts that also adjudicate Islamic criminal cases (Mahkamah Syar’iyah). Ultimately, Aceh Qanun Jinayat emerges as the latest Islamic law development in the modern era in which courts attempt to straddle between classical Islamic criminal law and the Indonesian criminal justice system that precedes it.


Given the exhaustive and sweeping changes that the law introduces, analyzing Aceh Qanun Jinayat as a whole is challenging. As more than thirty new types of criminal offences and specific evidentiary rules come with it, few are able to comprehend the larger picture of its implementation or achieve a more in-depth analysis of the law. This is mainly due to the difficulty of accessing court records, which remain challenging to collect and analyze despite their availability online. The result is a fragmented body of knowledge on the law whereby Aceh Qanun Jinayat is briefly brought up in the media when a high-profile public lashing is carried out.


The Aceh Project aims to close this knowledge gap by collecting court records and media reports to produce statistical data to gain a broader perspective on how this legal system works and how it has affected the people it has prosecuted since 2014. We also produce short in-depth blog posts looking at more specific and often overlooked cases based on these court documents to shed light on some of the lesser-known aspects of Aceh Qanun Jinayat that seem to be out of the public eye.

The Distrcit Shari'a Court in Banda Aceh

Criminal Offense and Punishment

Criminal offences promulgated in the Aceh Qanun Jinayat are divided into ten categories. Each category is further specified into several offences totaling at 35 different crimes. Definitions provided in the list below are a direct translation of the definitions written in the general provisions of Aceh Qanun Jinayat (Aceh Qanun Jinayat 2014 Article 1 point 1- 40). Important to note that in the implementation of Aceh Qanun Jinayat, the courts strictly use the definition written on the codified law which might differ from classical Islamic law. Hence, one must be cautious as not to assume that these Arabic sounding words mean the same as understood by Arabic speakers or what has been commonly defined in classical Islamic law.

Types of punishment

There are two types of punishments prescribed in Aceh Qanun Jinayat, namely hudud and ta’zir punishment. It is important not to directly associate both of these terms with how classical Islamic law defines them. Like many other Arabic inspired terms in Aceh Qanun Jinayat, these two types of punishment are understood according to the general provisions of Aceh Qanun Jinayat (Article 1/18-19)

  1. Hudud: A type of punishment explicitly regulated in the Qanun regarding its form and severity. This punishment is fixed.  
  2. Ta’zir: A type of punishment regulated in the Qanun with an optional form of punishment and uses a spectrum (highest or lowest) in determining its severity. (flexible punishment)

Forms of Punishment

The Shari’a court judges have the sole authority to determine convicts’ punishments after pronouncing them guilty of the alleged crimes. There are three main punishments, namely, public lashing, the payment of fines, and imprisonment. We also found that judges sometimes prescribe punishments outside of the predetermined options to a convict because of his/her age or other considerations. In such cases, we have recorded that judges also prescribe punishment to return the convict to the family or put them in a government rehabilitation program.

Methodology

Since the enactment of both the substantive and procedural law in 2014 and 2013, we can trace a widespread implementation of Aceh Qanun Jinayat as early as June 2015. The Aceh Project aims to capture a comprehensive picture of how the Shari’a district courts across Aceh have implemented this law in the region. We seek to know how many people have been prosecuted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat and how the judges have adjudicated their cases. To achieve this objective, we use two different data sources: the Shari’a district court online case tracking system (Sistem Informasi Penelusuran Perkara/SIPP), and news articles from a local media outlet.

Online Case Tracking System Database

SIPP provides valuable information to look at how each case has been progressing. Information such as the defendant’s gender, charges, evidence, verdicts, and sometimes even a lengthy explanation of the case is made available. However, the number of cases recorded in SIPP does not reflect the total number of defendants because more than one person is often charged in each case. It is not uncommon for cases related to gambling and alcohol consumption that a single case number represents the prosecution of more than ten people. Hence, we do not base the data collection for this research on the number of cases. Instead, we base it on the number of defendants brought to the Shari’a district courts as the first court of instance. We do this by sorting and reading each case entry on SIPP and extract each information one by one.

Aside from the Shari’a district court in Sinabang regency, all Shari’a district courts have an online case tracking system with varying degrees of accessibility. At the time of writing up this research, we have not compiled the data from three Shari’a district courts in Subulussalam City, Aceh Timur, and Aceh Barat Daya because the SIPP websites in those Shari’a district courts have just been made available recently. We have currently collected a dataset consisting of more than 2000 rows of defendants’ information from this data source. This dataset contains information such as case number, gender, charges, verdicts, and punishments.

It is important to note that the Shari’a courts’ online case tracking system across Aceh may not represent the actual number of all cases. Each court differs in its diligence to input case information onto its online case tracking system. Hence, it is likely that the actual number of defendants is much higher than what is presented here.

Media Monitoring Database

However, the online case tracking system does not provide information on the carrying out of public lashing. A guilty conviction does not guarantee the immediate lashing  because convicts are publicly lashed in groups. Many often have to wait for months in prison waiting for other convicts to be lashed together with them. Aside from that, the carrying out of public lashing falls under the jurisdiction of the district prosecutor’s office, a judicial body separate from the Shari’a court. Unlike in the Shari’a courts where court proceeding documents are required to be made available to the public through the online case tracking system, the prosecutor’s office does not publish their data on public lashing. Because of these reasons, we acquire the data on public lashing in all Shari’a district courts in Aceh by sorting through online news articles that report them.

To avoid duplicates and maintain data accuracy, we only use one online news media to gather the information. Aceh Tribun News (https://aceh.tribunnews.com/indeks), also commonly known as Serambi Aceh, is one of the biggest and most prominent news outlets in Aceh. It is particularly well suited for data collection because it maintains an online index of all its news articles going back to 2010. We sorted through the online news index from 2015 to December 2019 and read each article on public lashing carried out during that time period. Generally, an online news article will report on the number of people publicly lashed on one particular day. Information on the gender of the convicts is sometimes reported whereas information on what types of crime he/she has committed is almost never reported.

There were two periods of data collection conducted for this research. The first period was between August 2018 to July 2019. The second data collection period was in September 2020. Between the one-year break when we stopped collecting the data, some of the online tracking systems previously accessible become inaccessible. Also, much of the case information from 2015-2016 seems to have been erased from the system in 2020. We were able to extract the data before it was erased from the system, but this shows that the accessibility of these websites seems to be prone to change.

The lashing of a woman in 2017. Women convicts are lashed while kneeling down

The Defendants and their Crime

One of the earliest defendants prosecuted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat was in the second quarter of 2015 with eight defendants across Aceh. Throughout the rest of that year, the number of people accused of violating Islamic criminal law did not exceed more than eleven cases. However, this number soared more than fifteen times in the first quarter of 2016, which recorded more than 160 people prosecuted across Aceh. In total, 564 people were brought to the Shari’a courts across Aceh throughout 2016, the highest number of defendants recorded since the promulgation of Aceh Qanun Jinayat. Throughout 2017, at least 100 people were brought to the Shari’a District Courts across Aceh every quarter. The number fluctuates beginning in 2018, but the trend seems to fall below 100 defendants per quarter.  

As presented in the data below, an overwhelming number of defendants are prosecuted because they committed gambling. At least 980 people, up to half of the defendants since the enactment of the law, were charged with this crime. Defendants accused of violating the articles related to male and female physical relations are making up the second-highest violation category. These are crimes such as khalwat, ikhtilath, and zina, which amount to at least 469 defendants. These are the types of crime that will always involve two people of the opposite gender. The fact that the number of male and female defendants for these crimes is similar means that the law targets equally between genders.

Regarding this data, it is important to note that the number of defendants presented in this section does not connote actual public lashing of those pronounced guilty of their crime. The data on the number of defendants and their crime is acquired from the courts’ online case tracking system which only provides the court proceedings leading up to the judges’ convictions. Once the courts rule for a certain type punishment, including public lashing, the responsibility to carry out the punishment shifts to the prosecutor’s office. Also, punishment in the form of public lashing is not carried out immediately following a conviction. Convicts often have to wait several months in jail waiting for his/her turn to be publicly lashed with the others. Hence, the data in this section shows convictions for public lashing only and not the actual public lashings that have been carried out. To know more about those who have been publicly lashed see the public lashing section on this page.

At least 1839 people
prosecuted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat

Data last update: September 2020

The first lashing of a man convicted of liwath (same-sex sexual relation) in 2017

Verdict and Punishment

This section will show how the district Shari’a courts across Aceh have ruled for the defendants’ cases. By choosing one type of criminal offence on the drop-down menu, you will be presented with a list of regencies where the crime took place. It will also present the percentage of the defendants who are pronounced guilty or not guilty of their alleged crime. Lastly, it will show what types of punishment were meted out by the court for the defendants.

By sorting through the conviction rate for each type of crime, it is noticeable that almost all crime types have a one hundred per cent conviction rate except for khalwat, rape, and zina, where one defendant was acquitted for each crime since 2015. Only two out of 979 defendants charged with alcohol consumption were pronounced not guilty by the Shari’a district courts. The one type of criminal offence with the lowest conviction rate is child sexual abuse, with 91 percent conviction rate. Out of 43 defendants of child rape, 3 were acquitted.

With regards to the forms of punishment for which the courts ruled, public lashing remains the preferred type of punishment for those convicted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat. In total, the Shari’a courts across Aceh punished 1663 people with public lashing. After publish lashing, the most popular types of punishment are as follow: imprisonment for 108 people, fines for 31 people, and 15 people being punished with public lashing and imprisonment. The courts also punish a small number of people by returning them to their family and rehabilitation, most probably because they are underage.

Region Number of Defendants Blasphemy Buying, carrying, or gifting of alcohol Child rape Child sexual abuse Consumption of alcohol Gambling Ikhtilath Ikhtilath with a child Ikhtilath with a family member Khalwat Liwath Producing, storing, and selling of alcohol Providing facilities for gambling Providing facilities for ikhtilath Providing facilities for khalwat Providing facilities for zina Rape Rape by a family member Sexual assault Zina Zina with a child
Aceh besar 0 0 0 2 4 2 90 29 1 0 21 0 1 10 0 0 3 0 0 2 33 2
Aceh Barat 3 0 0 9 16 1 103 4 0 0 0 0 4 10 0 0 2 0 0 13 2 3
Gayo Lues 0 0 12 0 3 15 76 7 1 0 10 0 4 3 0 0 1 3 0 4 2 0
Langsa city 0 0 0 0 4 3 56 2 2 0 8 0 2 17 1 0 2 0 1 0 6 0
Aceh Tamiang 0 0 5 0 0 6 213 8 0 0 0 0 12 17 0 0 0 0 0 0 12 0
Aceh Tenggara 0 0 0 0 0 4 140 0 0 0 8 0 0 27 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0
Pidie 0 1 0 0 0 0 101 34 0 0 12 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 26 0
Banda Aceh City 0 0 2 0 1 9 73 120 0 2 18 4 5 11 4 2 0 1 0 0 2 0
Sabang city 0 0 0 0 0 0 22 2 0 0 23 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Aceh Tengah 0 0 0 3 4 3 26 16 2 0 4 0 2 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 18 0
Aceh Utara 0 0 0 1 0 0 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1
Aceh Selatan 0 0 0 7 8 0 7 16 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 2 4 0 3 0 3
Aceh jaya 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bener Meriah 0 0 0 3 1 0 21 4 1 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 1
Pidie Jaya 0 0 0 0 0 0 20 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Bireuen 0 0 0 0 0 0 16 0 0 0 6 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Lhoksumawe city 0 0 1 1 5 0 3 2 0 0 2 0 2 4 1 0 5 4 0 0 7 10
TOTAL 3 1 20 27 46 43 980 247 7 2 112 4 41 117 7 2 15 16 3 25 110 20

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Blasphemy
1 Aceh besar 0
2 Aceh Barat 0
3 Gayo Lues 0
4 Langsa city 0
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 1
8 Banda Aceh City 0
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 0

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Buying, carrying, or gifting of alcohol
1 Aceh besar 0
2 Aceh Barat 0
3 Gayo Lues 12
4 Langsa city 0
5 Aceh Tamiang 5
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 2
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 0

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Child rape
1 Aceh besar 2
2 Aceh Barat 9
3 Gayo Lues 0
4 Langsa city 0
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 0
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 3

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Child sexual abuse
1 Aceh besar 4
2 Aceh Barat 16
3 Gayo Lues 3
4 Langsa city 4
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 1
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 4

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Consumption of alcohol
1 Aceh besar 2
2 Aceh Barat 1
3 Gayo Lues 15
4 Langsa city 3
5 Aceh Tamiang 6
6 Aceh Tenggara 4
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 9
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 3

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Gambling
1 Aceh besar 90
2 Aceh Barat 103
3 Gayo Lues 76
4 Langsa city 56
5 Aceh Tamiang 213
6 Aceh Tenggara 140
7 Pidie 101
8 Banda Aceh City 73
9 Sabang city 22
10 Aceh Tengah 26

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Ikhtilath
1 Aceh besar 29
2 Aceh Barat 4
3 Gayo Lues 7
4 Langsa city 2
5 Aceh Tamiang 8
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 34
8 Banda Aceh City 120
9 Sabang city 2
10 Aceh Tengah 16

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Ikhtilath with a child
1 Aceh besar 1
2 Aceh Barat 0
3 Gayo Lues 1
4 Langsa city 2
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 0
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 2

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Ikhtilath with a family member
1 Aceh besar 0
2 Aceh Barat 0
3 Gayo Lues 0
4 Langsa city 0
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 2
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 0

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Khalwat
1 Aceh besar 21
2 Aceh Barat 0
3 Gayo Lues 10
4 Langsa city 8
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 8
7 Pidie 12
8 Banda Aceh City 18
9 Sabang city 23
10 Aceh Tengah 4

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Liwath
1 Aceh besar 0
2 Aceh Barat 0
3 Gayo Lues 0
4 Langsa city 0
5 Aceh Tamiang 0
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 0
8 Banda Aceh City 4
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 0

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Producing, storing, and selling of alcohol
1 Aceh besar 1
2 Aceh Barat 4
3 Gayo Lues 4
4 Langsa city 2
5 Aceh Tamiang 12
6 Aceh Tenggara 0
7 Pidie 1
8 Banda Aceh City 5
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 2

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

wdt_ID Region Providing facilities for gambling
1 Aceh besar 10
2 Aceh Barat 10
3 Gayo Lues 3
4 Langsa city 17
5 Aceh Tamiang 17
6 Aceh Tenggara 27
7 Pidie 3
8 Banda Aceh City 11
9 Sabang city 0
10 Aceh Tengah 1

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Conviction rate

Type of punishment

Public Lashing

In total, at least 894 people have been publicly lashed based on our media monitoring. The data source indicates that 422 of them were male, 92 of them were female, and the gender of the rest of them (380 people) was not mentioned. In 2015, the total number of people publicly lashed reached at least 128. The subsequent year saw the highest number of public lashing administered in Aceh as 254 people were lashed. From 2017 to 2019, the number of people lashed each year slightly went down with 186, 177, and 149 people lashed, respectively. 

This number is representing only half of the total people convicted under Aceh Qanun Jinayat as mentioned in the previous section. And because the last data recorded for public lashing was in August 2019, the actual number of people who have been lashed is likely much higher than what is presented here. But due to the limitation of news articles as a secondary source of data, many instances of public lashing may have gone unrecorded.

At least 894 people
have been lashed

Data last update: August 2019

Acknowledgement

This project was funded through a series of grants from Harvard University, which allowed me to conduct fieldwork in Aceh and fund a team to help me collect court records. The first grant I received was the Harvard Divinity School’s Dean’s Summer Internship, which funded my first fieldwork in Aceh during summer 2017. For more or less three months, I worked with Solidaritas Perempuan Aceh, a local women’s rights organization, to campaign and advocate for women’s rights in the region. During this period, I attended the first public lashing of two gay men and advocated for a woman accused of khalwat. Upon graduating from Harvard Divinity School in May 2018, I received the Sinclair-Kennedy Traveling fellowship to continue my Aceh research for ten months. In this second visit to Aceh from 2018-2019, I worked extensively with LBH Banda Aceh (Banda Aceh Legal Aid Foundation) to further understand how Islamic criminal law is implemented in Aceh. 

I want to thank Prof. Dan McKanan and Prof. Jocelyne Cesari of Harvard Divinity School and Prof. Intisar Rabb at Harvard Law School. They have supported me in my research and provided recommendation during my grant applications. A special thanks also to my friends and colleagues in Aceh who have helped tremendously during my stay there especially the staff and volunteer at Solidaritas Perempuan, LBH Banda Aceh, and JMSPS (Jaringan Masyarakat Sipil Peduli Syariah).

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